ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

Machine Translation is Approved by HHS. Or is it?

Posted by Kenzie Shofner on July 5, 2016

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in health programs. On May 18, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services published its final rule on how to apply the standards of Section 1557 to HHS-administered health programs and activities. There was some rather controversial language regarding paragraph 92.201 which regulates “Meaningful Access for Individuals With Limited English Proficiency”, particularly about machine translations.

Commenters “suggested that the final rule prohibit the use of computer-automated translation”, however the Department declined to “codify a prohibition on the use of automated translation as part of the final rule because such a requirement may unintentionally stifle innovation in this rapidly developing area.” While some pundits have implied that this is the HHS’s way of endorsing machine translation, we must politely disagree.  It’s not a resounding endorsement and it comes with caveats.

The rule specifically says that some translation technologies, such as machine translation which is highly unreliable, are “particularly dangerous, and can lead to very serious misunderstandings and adverse consequences for medical documents.” As a result, the Department declared that all machine translation must be reviewed by a qualified translator in order to fulfill a covered entity's obligation under § 92.201(a). So, while it is possible to use Machine Translations, you are required to have a qualified translator proofread and edit the content. Make sure someone (like ULG) is there to assess competency and attest to the final translation with qualified translators who specialize in the LEP healthcare community.

However, the Department did not vilify all translation technology. In fact, the HHS went on to say that some translation technologies such as translation memory can be advantageous “when used along with a qualified translator who independently verifies the accuracy and quality of the translation.”

So, what does this mean for healthcare providers who are seeking to provide meaningful access for their LEP communities?

  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the translation technology and software programs available. Talk to your translation partner to determine which technology solutions are best for your organization and for the people with limited English proficiency in your care.
  • Use a qualified translator to translate written content for your health programs and activities. Working with a professional linguist who is specialized in the target language, as well as the healthcare industry, helps to improve the accuracy when translating the highly specialized vocabulary and terminology used in the health care and health insurance settings.
  • Make sure your interpreters meet the definition of “qualified bilingual/multilingual staff” in § 92.4. No more relying on staff members who possess a rudimentary familiarity of a non-English language. Also, keep in mind that just because an individual meets the definition of a ‘qualified interpreter’ under this rule, that individual does not necessarily possess the knowledge, skills, or abilities to translate written content.

ULG has been using technology alongside with LEP specific workflows and translators for more than 15 years. We understand the pros and cons of these tools and can help you identify the best solution for your organization, content and audience, all while saving you money and helping you achieve compliance.

Have questions? We’d love to chat. Contact us today.

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